Review: Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden at Gexa Energy Pavilion

Posted 3:26pm on Monday, Aug. 18, 2014

The Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden doubleheader at Gexa Energy Pavilion often felt like weaponized nostalgia, fond memories repurposed for a full-on sonic assault.

Twenty years on from breakthrough albums — The Downward Spiral and Superunknown, respectively — neither act should sound as vital as they did Sunday, yet there both bands stood, ripping into their back catalogs with all the fervor of hungry young musicians.

The Nine Inch Nails set, in particular, was one of the most sustained, intense concert experiences I’ve seen all year, a kinetic masterpiece of sight and sound (Sunday’s show was NIN’s first Dallas gig in six years).

Anchored by Trent Reznor’s muscular, magnetic, nearly mute presence (a quick thank you was the most he spoke all night), the industrial rock band, pared down to a quartet for this tour, delivered a relentless 90-minute set.

Backed by a restless set of video screens and all manner of retina-searing lights (the most striking stage design seen in North Texas since Radiohead’s 2008 stop at the same venue), Nine Inch Nails harnessed the violence inherent in its music, thrusting the energy outward into a near-capacity crowd locked on every moment.

The night’s pinnacle — an extended version of The Great Destroyer, from 2007’s oft-overlooked Year Zero — was a dazzling fusion of imagery and music, as a riot of manipulated visuals boiled, melted and shifted behind Reznor, bent over a synthesizer and hammering out notes, as if trying to pound the song into the very bedrock below him.

Pulling from all phases of NIN’s career, reaching back for the still-potent fury of March of the Pigs or Head Like a Hole and incorporating dystopian paranoia in the opener, Copy of A, Reznor’s seamless song choices served to underscore the remarkable cohesion of the Nine Inch Nails catalog.

The heavy rotation hey-day of Closer (which felt deliriously cathartic Sunday) has faded, but the music remains as ferocious as ever.

While Soundgarden didn’t match Nine Inch Nails in visual intensity, sonically, the four rockers were every bit as imposing.

The 80-minute performance traversed the breadth of the Seattle-based band’s output — all the way back to their 1988 debut Ultramega OK up through 2012’s disappointing King Animal — with a welcome emphasis on the underrated follow-up to Superunknown, 1996’s Down on the Upside.

Chris Cornell’s scalded scream has lost none of its potency, Kim Thayil’s solos continue to sizzle (his full-on fretboard freakout during Spoonman was incredible), and the grim majesty of classics like The Day I Tried to Live, Fell on Black Days and, of course, Black Hole Sun continues to captivate two decades later.

The danger in looking back is discovering what you once loved isn’t as great as you remember.

How thrilling then, to be reminded in often brutal fashion, just how well what’s past plays in the present.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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